Thursday, December 11, 2014

12 Games of X-Mas 4: "Four Camping Heroes"

Camp Myth is a game that until a couple months ago I had never even heard of my group and I stumbled onto by accident.  The basics of the game world is that you and your friends play numerous young mythological creatures spending their summer at a wilderness camp learning how to be heroes.  The core mechanics run off of a simplified dice pool system combined with communal story telling elements. I will be up front that this review will probably be a bit shorter than most as this game isn't the largest or most complex out there.  However, what it lacks in size it more than makes up in simplicity.

The Good:

  • Easy Peasy
    • I'll start with saying that this game is incredibly easy to pick up, learn, and run in only a couple hours.  It's a game designed for first time table top players and could work as a great gateway game for new players.  In fact the game in specifically designed for teaching children (roughly 10-12 years old) how to role play.  Adventures run smooth and fast once you have the mechanics down thanks to the streamlined design, but still leaves enough open for flexibility even to the point that with some creativity the core system could easily be hacked into lots of other genres and locations.
  • Creativity is King
    • No game I have ever ran or played has allowed for as creative use of skills as I have seen in this game.  I kid you not the rules themselves allow any character to use any skill they may have to perform any task (including combat) as long as they come up with a creative and plausible argument that the given skill can be used.  There is even an optional rule that penalizes characters for using the same skill multiple times in a row which in combat quickly becomes an exercise in problem solving.  This combined with other character traits such as heirloom items the players get to make themselves make for incredibly personal stories.
  • Badge of Honor
    • One of the more unique elements within the system is how quests are both given and rewarded.  Within the back of the book is a list of different merit badges each of which how requirements that function as quest hooks for individual adventures as well as once obtained grant bonuses similar to magic items in many other games.  These bonuses are on top of the character progression through a simple leveling system that allows for everyone to feel as if they are progressing steadily while both guaranteeing uniform growth through the badges as well as individual customization through XP.  The added benefit of this system as well is that campers would know about if not all then most of these badges very quickly allowing for a GM that without a running plot in mind the ability for the players to select what their next adventure will be.

The Bad:

  • Dangerous in the Wrong Hands
    • As I've said this game is simple and flexible to an amazing degree.  The problem comes in when a player already used to optimizing for much more complex systems sits down the "min/max" and character in a game for children.  Between being able to use any skill for any task within reason and the freedom of creativity with what a character might own a player can make an unstoppable machine of a character that can walk through all but the most deadly challenges.  Now it's true a power gamer can do this is almost any system, but when set in front of one already designed to reward much more than it punishes it becomes the gaming equivalent of taking candy from a baby.
  • Staying Power
    • This is not a game made for epic campaigns.  It might seem obvious, but I feel it bears mentioning.  The badge system is a fun new way to handle quests and rewards, however after 3 or 4 session it started feeling a bit stale.  Personally I don't think its the idea behind the badges so much as just the setting.  All of your questing is within the summer camp, and though the camp has its own enchanted woods and mermaid filled lake each of them start to feel flat after the second time visiting.  I fully believe a GM could take what's here and model it in a way to fit a longer and more interesting campaign, but the game and world as is simply are too small to hold up to extensive play.
  • On the Rails
    • Once again this is a bit more of the limits of the setting much more than the mechanics underneath, but with the ultra free form nature of play with this game everything seems to fall into either being incredibly railroaded as to add focus for the players or completely up in the air.  When a character can use any skill to potentially solve any task it becomes a game of putting those tasks in front of the player and seeing how they solve them.  Given the fact that campers cant explore outside of the camp, the expected young age of the characters limiting their ability to influence anyone outside of other campers socially, and (though the book is kind enough to add 3 distinctly different adventures) the incredibly railroaded examples of stories everything just comes off feeling reactionary for the heroes rather than them actually pushing the narrative forward.

Final Thoughts:
Honestly, this game has become one of those hidden gems I like to share with other gamer friends of mine.  Yes it's a simple and exploitable system, but its also a game built for teaching kids and getting them into the hobby.  It is easily the best game made for specifically kids I've seen and it has a few fun ideas I've stolen for some of my other larger game.  If you are looking for something to bring someone younger into the hobby or even just a simple game to learn and play a one shot or two to change things up for you and your group I strongly suggest checking Camp Myth out.

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